A brief pair of notes

1) Dvorak typists: I’m sorry if the paper I relied on has some potential flaws.  If you want to share your extensive rants on the merits of various keyboard layouts, send them to me at doctorow@boingboing.net and I’ll be sure to read them over carefully.

2) You know how sometimes trying to fix one problem causes a worse problem, which in turn causes a worse one, and so forth?  This week, I was trying to turn off SafeSearch in Google Image Search (sometimes necessary to find things1).  In trying to turn off SafeSearch, a setting on a web form, I rendered my system unbootable2. (The worst part was, everyone kept saying “oh yeah — there’s a comic about that; have you read it?”)

Any guesses as to how that happened?  I have to go for now, but I’ll include the actual chain of events in my next blog post.

1 Like the Nate Silver Playgirl centerfold.
2 I’ve finally recovered it3 via a USB boot disk and some work, but it took several days and the help of a number of wonderful hackers. Thanks you, Decklin and sneakums.
3 And then promptly spilled milk on it, so the keyboard’s been through the dishwasher and is now drying4 in front of the fan. This is not a happy laptop.
4 Nested footnotes!

160 thoughts on “A brief pair of notes

  1. I won’t bother commenting on whether Dvorak used to be better or not, but with modern standard shortcut keys, it no longer is. Even on Linux I usually used ctrl-v for copying, ctrl-t for opening new tabs, ctrl-w for closing them, ctrl-a for highlighting all text… and when you move several of your most often used shortcut keys to the same side as the mouse, things become difficult. Yes, I tried to teach myself Dvorak, and I think that even coincided with the time I was using the ratpoison windows manager (designed to work without needing the mouse) but gave up because it just wasn’t workable without also reassigning all my standard shortcuts.

  2. I’m not clear on why any studies done in the 1940s or 1950s are at all relevant to keyboard-layout arguments today. The forces one has to employ while typing on a manual typewriter are not the same as for an electric, and an electric typewriter is not a computer keyboard. Whatever marginal differences one way or the other they found during the Eisenhower administration are historical curiosities now.

    The real question is whether texting via numeric keypad can beat Morse code. I for one would be far more likely to send text messages if I could do it all steampunk-style.

    A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

    James Madison, Federalist No. 10.

  3. I’m going to guess that the sequence went something like this:

    1). need to set cookies to save google search preferences. hmm, something isn’t working right, this must be a problem with firefox
    2). I better reinstall firefox. Ooh, version 3.1 is in beta, I should install that
    3). Looks like the only way to update firefox is to update X,Y,Z, where X,Y,Z are things like glibc which mess with a lot of other stuff
    4). Oh shit, sharks.

    or, more likely:

    1). something is wrong with firefox, I better fix it
    2). a bajillion different fixes, all making the problem worse
    3). Disk usage exceeded? But I have plenty of….oh,…..no, my /home or /var partition really is full. Wait a minute, does that mean….
    4). yes, it means that was the problem all along, and everything else you did just made it worse :-P

  4. Damn, I read footnotes depth-first, and let’s just say my mind’s context stack limit is not very high.

  5. Epic fail!

    off topic:
    xkcd got a reference in the new scientist this week, check out the last word section!

  6. ViM FTFW !!! (for the fucking win)
    It doesn’t matter which layout you use if you are tied down to emacs, ViM is always faster……
    BTW: Lisp is for AI, not for Editor MACroS!

  7. Glad that you weren’t looking for dirty things, only playgirl stuff .. God forbid you need image search as off for other reasons.

  8. We all know that problem. I spent about an hour and a half trying to get a wireless access point working yesterday. I changed the settings about 12 times, rebooted it over 20 times, checked the power cord, watched the blinkenlights as if I could extract meaningful information from them, upgraded the firmware, and started considering whether the nearby refrigerator was causing interference before the solution finally hit me.

    The antenna wasn’t screwed all the way in.

    Sometimes you just have to take the long route.

  9. dude, emacs? i’ve never read anything on your comics that surprised me more than that. vim is the way.

  10. Yeah. While switching to Linux I needed a few days to install the ndiswrapper module to get my Wi-Fi working. I got it working, but it was buggy and lost the connection at random. And while messing with it I discovered that there ARE native Linux drivers for my card and they were installed during the god damn installation! And yeah, I got confused by the embedded footnotes too.

  11. Personally, DVORAK would have to be something like three or four times faster for me to even consider trying it. It took me ages to learn to type without thinking about at least some letters, and the ability to type at the library if my pc dies, or when I need to look something up online at a friend’s house, etc, would trump speed at home by a huge margin.

  12. I think we can all agree that Vim < Emacs…

    …but that’s the point, so I use Vim.

  13. Many years ago I learned vi instead of emacs because at the time my duties included system administration, and vi was much more functional in single-user mode without any gui. Then vim came along, and it basically does nearly everything I need it to do. And for the fancier stuff, vim can easily feed the entire buffer or any portion thereof through any external program (like sort or a Perl one-liner). At least a dozen times in an average day I pipe something through a Perl one-liner from vim — and I do this under both Windows and Linux (having of course installed Vim and Perl on every machine I use regularly).

  14. To me, Dvorak feels more comfortable to Qwerty. This is especially patent when I have to switch back to qwerty and I find all keys are scattered around and too far away. Yes, even before I thow the keyboard against the wall.

    That said, typing Dvorak is also geek and sexy :D

  15. Gotta love people who think only two editors exist.

    Vi’ers and emaxxorz deserve each other.

  16. 3 And then promptly spilled milk on it, so the keyboard’s been through the dishwasher and is now drying4 in front of the fan. This is not a happy laptop.

    If you’re the sort of person who uses the laptop on a stand and at a desk at times, you could get one of these—a Unicomp Customizer, which is a model M reborn (disclaimer: that is in fact my website I’m whoring). When I used a PowerBook, it spent much of its life sitting on an iCurve and with an external keyboard attached. Then if you spill something you can just pop off the keys and run it through the dishwasher. In addition, the sound of machine gun fire might scare away potential burglars.

  17. Ah, the old story of crying of spilt milk (Pun DEFINITELY intended.) Well, the problem could have been anything…or just a cookie problem…
    best of luck to you. maybe one day youll find that Nate Silver centerfold.

  18. No link to the centerfold?

    I’d guess something to do with Flash player and audio drivers?

  19. @At

    So what you’re saying it that his problem is milk and cookies? Maybe Santa will bring him a new laptop.


  21. I don’t actually _type_, except in the simplest sense of the word; I use a mildly advanced form of hunt-and-peck. For me Dvorak (at home) and QWERTY (at work) are about equally fast — or equally slow, as the case may be.

    The real reason I use Dvorak is to dissuade other people from using my computer. The look of confusion on the face of someone staring at my keyboard is simply delightful.

  22. IDK about linux randomly giving you the finger, maybe it has something to do with the fact your laptop is so old?
    Although this doesn’t fit your requirements, I’d recommend a toughbook 19 from panasonic if you can manage to foot the bill.

  23. Ah yes, I seem to do things like this to myself all the time. I decided the other day to set up a system without an X server, and things were all fine until I decided I wanted fancier things such as a gpm mouse, a framebuffer, or >80×25 text resolution. I guess I should not want things.
    At least it wasn’t an important computer!

  24. I’m slightly confused. How does one nuke their laptop by turning off safesearch in Google? O_o Are you sure the milk didn’t accidentally rm -rf your computer? (*note: for those who don’t know what that means, DON’T TRY IT) BTW, when are your nested footnotes going to hatch?

  25. I recently had a problem like that. A fan died in my desktop. In the process of replacing it, i think we messed with the processor, because it wouldnt boot windows. So we ordered a new motherboard and processor (got a decent deal) online. Of course we needed new RAM to fit it. So when we instal it, we notice there is only one EIDE slot for the 2 EIDE CD drives and 2 EIDE hard drives we need to plug into it. So we can only pulg two in by use of a double cable. So we still cant boot windows, maybe beause the OS is on one of the hard disks we cant properly connect…its a mess. Sow e switch back tot he old motherbvoard, hoping we have fixed a disconnect that was the problem. Not the case. Switching back to the new motherboard, it still wont boot. So we decide to get a new SATA hard drive, load windows again and just save the CD drives. This might have worked, but we didnt know SATA used a different power conector than the Molex power cables on out power supply. So now we’re waiting for the power splitter and an EIDE to SATA adapter. And praying it will all work soon

  26. Weird. I just had a dream about how Randall had posted a four-part series in his blog about how he managed to render his system unbootable via SafeSearch. I had to check whether it was real; alas it was not. Too bad that the only thing I remember anything about it right now is that a bungee cord was involved. :(

  27. In honor of your adventure, why not add #349 as a signed print in the store? I would so buy it.

  28. Pingback: The World of Stuff - Blog Archive - ZOMG XKCD

  29. Your formula in the latest comic is wrong. Assuming you use published figures for the average occurance of sex across all age groups (89), and the average length from penetration to ejaculation (7 minutes), you run into problems when you figure for a large urban area such as Chicago, which has a population density of 12,649 people per square mile. You end up with a distance of approximately .00002 meters, which is impossible because I’m 100% positive there are not two people having sex on top of me right now.

    -Summer Glau

  30. @Summer Glau:

    I did a back-of-the-napkin calculation for San Francisco (at least 16,000 people per square mile even if you go with the probably-too-low census data) and came up with the perfectly reasonable figure of 160 meters. Make sure you’re introducing the proper correction factors for miles vs. meters and minutes vs. years.

  31. There’s probably a formula to work out the statistical likelihood of any one person being hot, and from there work out how likely a couple is to be hot, and thence how likely it is that the probable couple mentioned is, in fact, hot.

    Data on what kinks they probably have is probably difficult to gather.

  32. @summer glau

    Also note that the population density is not given in cubic meters. Z-axis is not taken into account. Apartment buildings, for the sake of population density, contain hundreds of people in the same relatively small area. So, if you live in apartment building, then yes, .000002 meters is a reasonable distance on the X/Y axis.

  33. sqrt[2/(pi 12659 89 7)] gives you 0.000284116422945409 i believe this is where summer got her number from, she forgot to correct for the units

  34. According to the formula, Summer’s data, and the population density of the city I live in, someone within a 362m distance of me is having sex.
    Sounds reasonable. :-)

  35. Thanks for an excellent webcomic. However, I’m having problem with the equation of todays feed (563). If you assume people having sex as a 2D Poisson process (independent events :), with a copulation density of lambda=R*x_f*x_d/2 (divided by two because you need to be two…), then the expected number of couples having sex inside area A is lambda times A. And with A=pi*r^2 and setting the expected number of couples to one, you get the equation shown in the comic. But expectation is only preserved in linear transformations. You can show that the radius to the nearest point in a Poisson process is Rayleigh-distributed with expecation 1/2*sqrt(lambda) (see http://www.math.uah.edu/stat/poisson/HigherDimensional.xhtml), so according to this, the equation should read as: Average distance to people having sex, r=1/sqrt(2*R*x_d*x_f). In order to check this, I did a Monte Carlo simulation.
    Yes, I’m a nerd!

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